Where did the bizarre tradition of drinking from women’s shoes come from?
The most popular origin story has all the elements we adore: debauchery, sexuality, and royalty.
An infamous bordello in Chicago occupied a double mansion with a library, art gallery, ballroom, 50 bedrooms, and a good two dozen prostitutes always on call.
The Everleigh Club was run in the 1900’s by Misses Ada and Minna Lester who had earlier run (one assumes) a much more modest establishment in Omaha, Nebraska.
It positively glittered with a $15,000 gold-leafed piano, $12 bottles of Champagne, and rooms with mirrored ceilings and $650 spittoons.
In a possibly apocryphal tale, the club’s best dancer, Vidette, was perched on a mahogany table dancing to “The Blue Danube” waltz when it happened…
“Her feet flying higher each time, legs meeting and parting like a pair of scissors possessed,” according to Karen Abbott, author of the 2008 book, “Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul.”
One of Vidette’s high-heeled silver slippers went flying across the room, hitting a Champagne bottle, and spilling some into the shoe.
Thinking on his feet, a dashing man named Adolph calmed things down — and ensured Vidette could continue dancing — by chugging the Champagne straight from her slipper.
(“Boot liquor. The darling mustn’t get her feet wet,” Adolph supposedly stated.)
Luckily for the fad of drinking from women’s shoes, H.R.H. Prince Henry of Prussia was present.
What followed, Abbott explains, was:
“Prince Henry’s entire entourage arose, yanked a slipper from the nearest girl, and held it aloft. Waiters scurried about, hurriedly filling each shoe with Champagne.”
The exact same incident was laid at the feet of H.I.H. the Grand Duke Boris of Russia.
Perhaps the wheels and cogs of the Lester’s impressive marketing machine are at work here?
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union put their feet down and protested in a registered letter to President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt.
The Grand Duke hotly denied ever having done such a thing on the grounds of his blue blood, and loftily blamed gutter journalism.
At least, unlike the tradition of girls jumping out of cakes, this fad wasn’t associated with murder.
Drinking from Das Boot
One story by Philly Beer Scene places the boot firmly on an unnamed Prussian general in an unnamed war. He promised his soldiers that if they won the upcoming battle, then he would drink beer out of his boot.
Apparently, the general skimped on his promise by getting a glass boot custom-made!
The story kicked off from there. During World War I, German soldiers were said to pass around a leather boot filled with beer before battle for good luck.
They would flick the boot before and after taking a drink and passing the bootie to the left hand side.
Glamour of Drinking from Women’s shoes
But perhaps the credit for the bizarre but fun custom can be laid at the feet of Queen Victoria’s naughty uncles?
The Argus’ critic refers to:
The pas seul, pas de deux, pas de trois, and pas de quatre, which used to drive the exquisites of “Fops’ Alley” wild with excitement in the reign of William IV. [1765–1837],when champagne would be drunk out of a figurante’s white stain slipper, and a glove that had been worn by Fanny Eissler [the celebrated Austrian ballerina] was worth its weight in gold.
By the late 19th century, Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet fans may have drunk, not necessarily Champagne, but straight vodka(!), from their favorite ballerinas’ satin slippers.
Around the same time in Belle Époque Paris, the Folies Bergère’s cabaret dancers served up slippers of Champagne to their admirers.
However it originated, drinking from women’s shoes became so imbued with theatrical glamour that according to a society writer in 1941:
In Lillian Russell’s day, no actress possessed the real spirit of the theatre if she didn’t periodically dance on a supper table and drink Champagne out of a slipper.
And movie star Tallulah Bankhead famously sipped Champagne from a chocolate suede slipper during a 1951 press conference at London’s Ritz Hotel.
If you choose to get your feet wet à la Bankhead, remember to be considerate with your footwear.
As Groucho Marx reminisced in the 1939 film “At the Circus”:
“The night I drank Champagne from your slipper — two quarts. It would have held more, but you were wearing inner soles!”
If you enjoyed this blog, you might like to find out where girls jumping out of cakes came from. Hint: it involves money, decadence, and murder.
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.